Glossary of LGBTQ+ terms

There are many terms related to LGBTQ+ issues and it might seem overwhelming at first. But fret not - this glossary should help you better understand your LGBTQ+ members as you work on getting your music group to be more diverse and welcoming.

This glossary, written by Dr Kathleen Cronie and Dr Michael Bonshor, serves as a companion to our other LGBTQ+ resources: LGBTQ+ inclusion guide and Working with transgender singers. It includes some terminology and acronyms commonly used to describe LGBTQ+ identities. This information is useful in understanding discussions around LGBTQ+ issues, and when speaking with LGBTQ+ people who are likely to use some of these terms. 

Please remember that you don’t need to be a terminology expert in order to practise inclusively. There may be many terms that you come across that are unfamiliar but don’t worry about memorising these straight away. You can always use this section as a reference when required. Also, remember that terminology is constantly evolving and there may be terms that are used differently or not at all as time moves on. This glossary has been put together in consultation with LGBTQ+ people and whilst not necessarily comprehensive, it offers a wide range of terms that you may hear used by LGBTQ+ people in your group.

If you would like more help with increasing your knowledge and understanding of inclusive practice, please see the list of Further resources.   

Ace: An umbrella term used by some people to describe themselves as someone who experiences no sexual and/or romantic attraction or someone who experiences low, occasional, or varying levels of sexual and/or romantic desire. This term acknowledges the spectrum of sexual and romantic attraction and is inclusive of asexual/aromantic people.  

AFAB: Assigned female at birth.

AMAB: Assigned male at birth.

Aromantic: Someone who does not experience romantic attraction. Aromantic people may or may not experience sexual attraction.

Asexual: Someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people may or may not experience romantic attraction.

Binary: This is a classification traditionally used to suggest that the only two genders are clearly distinguished as male and female.

Bisexual/Bi: Some people use this term to describe themselves if they are attracted to more than one gender. Others might describe themselves in other terms, such as pansexual or queer.

Body-shaping garments: These are sometimes worn underneath a person’s outer clothes in order to feminise or masculinise their appearance. Sometimes these can affect posture, restrict the breathing, and limit some forms of movement. A trans person should never be asked about this, but they might confide that it affects their singing or playing on occasions. 

Cisgender: This term is used to describe individuals whose gender identity matches the sex that was assigned at birth, which appears on their original birth certificate.

Cisnormative: The (incorrect) assumption that everyone has a gender identity which matches the sex that was assigned to them at birth. Cisnormative behaviour is based on this assumption. 

Coming out: Telling others about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Some LGBTQ+ people will be 'out' to many friends, family and colleagues and others may choose not to come out at all. It is important not to make any assumptions about someone’s LGBTQ+ identity, and to ensure that if someone comes out to you, you know whether or not that information is to be kept confidential. For some people it is not safe to come out and live authentically as themselves and they may choose to keep their LGBTQ+ identity private or only to come out to a few trusted people. Coming out is not a one-off process, LGBTQ+ people continually face a choice about whether or not to come out each time they meet a new person.

Cross-sex medication: This is the formal term for a regimen of hormone replacement therapy, which is used to help some trans people to develop the secondary sexual characteristics that reflect their gender identity. For example, a trans woman may take female hormones, which will help to align some aspects of her physical appearance with her gender identity, while a trans man may take male hormones to masculinise his body. Often, these hormones will be described as being part of the gender affirmation/confirmation process rather than as 'cross-sex' medication. 

Deadnaming: This happens when a trans person has changed their name to reflect their gender identity, and someone addresses them (or speaks of them) by using their previous name.  This is offensive and risks 'outing' a trans person. 

Gay: A man who is attracted to or loves other men. Many women also use the term gay to describe themselves if they are attracted to women. Some non-binary people also use this term to describe themselves.

Gender affirmation or gender confirmation surgery: These terms are now commonly used to refer to 'gender reassignment' surgery, which can be part of a transition for some transgender people. 

Gender dysphoria: The NHS defines this as 'A sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life'.

Gender identity: Someone’s sense of their own gender, i.e. whether they see themselves as a man, woman or non-binary.

Gender reassignment: Now more commonly described as gender confirmation or affirmation. This is a transition which can include medical support, including hormone treatment and/or surgery.

Gender transition: The process of making changes to live in the gender you identify with. For some people this includes social changes such as altering for example, the way you dress and/or the names or pronouns you ask others to call you by. Some trans people pursue a medical transition which can involve hormone treatments and/or surgeries. Each person’s transition is an individual journey and the process of the transition will vary.

Heteronormative: The (incorrect) assumption that everyone is attracted to the opposite sex. Embedded in this assumption is the assumption that everyone is either male or female. Heteronormative assumptions can be manifested in the ways in which people are treated, and even in the song lyrics that we sing. 

Heterosexual: A man who is attracted to or loves women, or a woman who is attracted to or loves men.

Intersex: In some cases, a newborn baby’s sex is not clearly male or female. In this case, they are assigned as either male or female, based on the judgement of the clinicians attending their birth. Some people find out that they are intersex later in life, as this is not always obvious at birth. Some intersex people might choose or need to pursue hormonal treatment and/or surgery to support a physical transition.

Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to or loves other women. Some non-binary people also use this term to describe themselves.

Misgendering: This happens when someone does not acknowledge or disputes an individual’s self-defined gender identity. It can take the form of using inappropriate pronouns or other descriptors, which do not align with the trans person’s sense of their own gender. For example, referring to a trans woman as 'he', or a trans man as 'she', would be misgendering. This is offensive and risks 'outing' the trans person.

Non-binary: Someone whose gender identity does not align fully with either male or female. Non-binary identities can vary significantly from person to person, with some people identifying as more masculine or feminine, or not identifying with any gender.

Outing: This happens when a third party reveals that someone is LGBTQ+, without their permission. For trans people, this happens when a trans person’s sex assigned at birth, trans status or trans history is revealed by a third party without their permission. Under the Gender Recognition Act (2004), this is an offence and legal redress is possible.

Pansexual: Someone who is attracted to or loves people of more than one or all genders.

Present: The way in which a person signals their gender identity to the world. This may or may not be congruent with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Pronouns: The words we use to refer to people when we don’t use their name, e.g. 'He took his clothes to the dry cleaners yesterday.' Commonly used pronouns include She/Her, He/Him, or They/Them. Some people will use less common pronouns such as Xe/Xem or Ze/Hir. People may choose one set of pronouns or might use a mixture of these. Others might choose not to use pronouns at all and will ask you to instead use their name each time you refer to them, e.g. 'Kathleen drove to the shops in Kathleen’s car.' This is one way in which we can refer to people if we are not sure of their gender identity.

Queer: The word queer has a long history for LGBTQ+ people. Whilst previously this term was used against the community as a slur, it is increasingly being reclaimed by LGBTQ+ people to positively describe their sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Its ability to describe both sexual orientation and gender identity has resulted in its increasing use as a term that many people use interchangeably with LGBTQ+ to describe the community or group of identities as a whole. For some LGBTQ+ people however, the word still carries negative connotations and therefore they would not use this word to describe themselves or others. We have chosen to include the use of queer in this glossary due to its increasing use within the LGBTQ+ community. 

Questioning: Someone who is exploring their identity. This can refer to sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. 

Romantic orientation: The way in which you are romantically attracted to other people. Some people find that their sexual and romantic orientations align, and others find that they differ.

Sex assigned at birth: The sex that appears on an individual’s original birth certificate. This is based on clinicians’ observations of external physical manifestations of a baby’s biological sex at birth. Usually, this classification of newborn babies will be male or female. Even if the baby’s physical appearance is not definitive, intersex babies are still assigned to one of the binary genders.

Sexual orientation: The way in which you are attracted to other people. Some people are attracted to people of one gender, to more than one gender, and some people do not experience sexual attraction at all.

'Stealth': This is the way in which some trans people refer to living after gender transition without being 'out'. For example, a trans woman or trans man may have no reason or desire for their trans history to be known. For some people, being 'out' may jeopardise their work or family relationships and can lead to risks of psychological or physical harm. 'Stealth' is a controversial term and can carry negative connotations. However, some trans people will comfortably use it and allies should take their cues about language from the people with lived experience of being trans.

Transfeminine: This is used by people who were assigned as male at birth, who identify and present themselves as feminine but not as female.

Transgender/Trans: Someone whose gender identity does not match the gender that was assigned to them at birth.

Trans history: A trans person may have undergone some level of physical transition to match more accurately their appearance with their gender identity. A trans person may be indistinguishable from cisgender people and might not be 'out' In this case, they may not view themselves as 'trans' but as a person with a trans history.

Trans man: Some trans people use this term to describe themselves if they were assigned female at birth but identify as male.

Transmasculine: This is used by people who were assigned as female at birth, who identify and present themselves as masculine but do not see themselves as male.

Transexual or transsexual (both spellings are correct): No longer commonly used and is seen as offensive by some transgender people. However, for some trans people who have undergone a medically supported physical transition, this term might still be used in preference to transgender. If in doubt, we should always sensitively observe and use the language that the individual uses about themselves.

Trans woman: Some trans people use this term to describe themselves if they were assigned male at birth but identify as female.

Making Music LGBTQ+ resources


  • Dr Kathleen Cronie is a choral conductor and has previously worked as a voice teacher, singer and choral researcher. She is currently the MD for Loud & Proud, Scotland’s first LGBTQ+ choir, and is experienced in working with LGBTQ+ singers as individual students. Her PhD research explored what singers need from their conductors to fully participate in choral singing, and she now offers support and coaching to choirs and MDs to run rehearsals and performances that are designed to set a shared vision for the group and look after singers’ needs as a priority. She has also undertaken training in working with transgender singers and recently led the 'Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People' research project.  
  • Dr Michael Bonshor is a music psychologist with a background as a professional singer, voice teacher, accompanist and conductor. He is the course director for the University of Sheffield’s MA Music Psychology in Education, Performance and Wellbeing, and lectures on courses at Leeds Conservatoire, University College London and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He has longstanding experience of teaching individual transgender singers, and leading practical voice workshops to help trans people to use their voices in a way which reflects their gender identity.  

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.